Identifying laboratory sources of microplastic and nanoplastic contamination from the air, water, and consumables

Nina R. Jones, Alix M. de Jersey, Jennifer L. Lavers, Thomas Rodemann, Jack Rivers-Auty

Microplastic and nanoplastic research has proliferated in recent years in response to the escalating plastic pollution crisis. However, a lack of optimised methods for sampling and sample processing has potential implications for contaminating samples resulting in an overestimation of the quantity of microplastics and nanoplastics present in environmental samples. In response, a series of recommendations have been made, but most have not been quantified or validated sources of contamination. In the present study, we investigated sources of plastic contamination in common laboratory procedures including water sources (e.g., Milli-Q), consumables (e.g., unburnt glassware), airflow (e.g., fume hood) and dust. Using flow cytometry, we identified water, air flow and dust as sources of significant contamination. Milli-Q and reverse osmosis were the least contaminated sources when compared with tap water. Interestingly, current recommendations are to use glass consumables in replacement of plastic consumables, however, we have identified glassware and glass consumables as a significant source of contamination. Current best practice is to cover the glass tube with aluminium foil to reduce airborne contamination, but we found fresh aluminium foil to be a significant source of contamination, bringing light to the limitations foil has as a contamination control measure. Lastly, we identified significant quantities of microplastics and nanoplastics present in dust collected within the laboratory, suggesting this is a widespread and underestimated source of contamination. We have provided validated sources of contamination for both consumables and common laboratory procedures and provided mitigation strategies based on these. Additional recommendations include the appropriate design of experimental controls to quantify levels of introduced contamination based on methods and the detection techniques utilised. The application of these mitigation strategies and appropriate experimental design will allow for more accurate estimations on the level of microplastic and nanoplastic contamination within environmental samples